What Japan’s COVID-19 situation looks like on the cusp of Tokyo Olympics

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(TOKYO) — In the latest blow to a delayed and beleaguered Tokyo Olympics, officials on Thursday said a state of emergency had been declared due to COVID-19 and spectators would not be allowed in venues to watch the games in the city’s new stadiums.

While international spectators had already been barred, the latest announcement bans locals hosting the games from attending the events in their city. The decision also means that organizers will likely lose much of the $800 million collected through ticket sales. Local opposition to holding the games was already high.

Many of Japan’s peers across the globe are easing coronavirus restrictions at a time when it is reinstating them. While data on cases and deaths indicate the world’s third-largest economy by gross domestic product has managed comparatively well over the course of the pandemic, Japan’s present vaccination rates lag far behind other developed nations as increased threats lurk from new variants.

With the opening ceremony now just two weeks away, here is how Japan and its capital city are faring with the coronavirus.

Tokyo

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Thursday reported 896 new cases, and on Wednesday reported 920 new cases — a major jump from Tuesday’s tally of 593 new cases and Monday’s 342 new cases.

The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in Tokyo — which has a population of 13.96 million — since the start of the pandemic is 179,252 and the number of deaths from the virus is 2,246. The data indicates Tokyo has fared relatively well so far compared to the devastation the virus wrought on major cities elsewhere. New York City, with a population of 8.33 million, has reported 957,148 cumulative cases and 33,444 deaths. London, with a population just shy of 9 million, has suffered 783,437 cumulative cases and 14,966 deaths.

Meanwhile, London on Wednesday reported 3,314 new positive cases, according to its most-recent data. New York City on Wednesday had 452 new cases. ​

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attributed the recent uptick in infections in Tokyo in part to the highly transmissible delta variant.

Japan

National data similarly shows Japan’s case count has comparatively remained low, but its lagging vaccination rates are hampering its pandemic recovery.

Japan has reported a total of 2,180 new cases over the past day, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. Its record high was 7,914 new cases in a single day on April 29. Some 15.16% of the population of Japan has been fully vaccinated.

The U.S., which has three times the population of Japan, reported 22,931 new cases over the past day, Johns Hopkins data indicates. The U.S. saw a record high of 300,462 new cases in a single day on Jan. 2. Meanwhile, 48.11% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

The U.K., which has a little over half the population of Japan, had 32,061 new cases over the past day. Its record high was 68,192 new cases in a single day on Jan. 8. Some 50.91% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins.

Meanwhile, data compiled by The New York Times indicates that the U.S. had an average of five cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days. The U.K.’s average is 41 per 100,000 people. Japan’s average is one case per 100,000 residents, according to the same data set.

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Biden says military withdrawal from Afghanistan will conclude Aug. 31

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden announced Thursday the drawdown of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will be completed by Aug. 31, as instability and violence ratchet up in the region.

“Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on Aug. 31. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart,” he said.

“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people, alone, to decide their future and how they want to run their country,” the president continued.

Biden said it was time to end the nation’s longest war, noting “2,448 Americans killed, 20,722 more wounded and untold thousands coming home with unseen trauma to their mental health,” adding, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

Asked if a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is now inevitable, Biden said it isn’t because “the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped, as well-equipped as any army in the world, and an air force, against something like 75,000 Taliban.”

“It is not inevitable,” he repeated.

“That job had been over for some time.” pic.twitter.com/IPgAepjTya

Prior to delivering the speech, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris received a briefing on the drawdown from their national security team.

The White House has stood firm in defense of Biden’s decision to pull out, citing internal analysis concluding that a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is unlikely.

But the Taliban are continuing to gain ground, with an aggressive summer offensive through northern provinces in recent weeks that has seized control of dozens of districts.

Biden administration officials have also defended the military withdrawal by saying that U.S. intelligence indicated the threat to U.S. forces from Taliban militants would have significantly increased throughout summer.

“When he announced our drawdown, he made clear that the Taliban would have been shooting at U.S. troops again after May 1. And the withdrawal deadline negotiated by the previous administration kind of set that timeline,” Psaki said July 2, adding that an administration review of options to advance U.S. interests in Afghanistan “did not sugarcoat what the likely outcomes would be” with continued engagement in the region.

The withdrawal, which Biden had said would wrap up by Sept. 11, unfolded ahead of schedule. Bagram Air Base, the main hub of military operations in Afghanistan for the past two decades, was handed over to Afghan forces July 2. In a statement on Monday, U.S. Central Command indicated the withdrawal was about 90% complete. A small force of about 650 will remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal to protect the U.S. Embassy and, for now, the Kabul airport.

“Our presence is small, both materially and physically,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday.

But since U.S. troops began pulling out of Afghanistan, security has rapidly deteriorated. Taliban militants have swept through dozens of districts, seizing control and either slaughtering Afghan troops or winning their surrender. Hundreds of Afghan forces also fled across the northern Afghan border into Tajikstan when faced with the growing Taliban threat, although they are now expected to return to the country. Some have already been flown back into Afghanistan.

Amid the recent clashes, the Biden administration is still emphasizing a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Those talks, hosted in Doha, Qatar, have been all but dead since they began last September and reached an agenda in November.

The two sides met again Wednesday in Tehran and agreed that “war is not the solution to Afghanistan’s problems,” according to the Taliban spokesperson in Doha.

In those districts retaken by the Taliban last month, militants have evicted families and looted and torched their homes, according to Human Rights Watch, allegedly in retaliation for working with the Afghan government.

There is also concern for the safety of thousands of translators, drivers and other Afghans who assisted U.S. forces and diplomats during the war and are now targets of Taliban militants. In his remarks Thursday, Biden spoke directly to that population to assure them of U.S. support.

“Starting this month…we’re going to begin relocation flights for Afghanistan SIV applicants and their families who choose to leave. We have a point-person in the White House and at the State Department-led task force coordinating all these efforts,” Biden said.

“Our message to those women and men is clear: There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us,” he added.

While the Biden administration has confirmed it is working to move some of the affected Afghans out of the country to safe locations to await special immigrant visas that would allow them to move to the U.S., the administration has not specified how many will be moved, how quickly or where.

A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News on Friday that the group may be moved to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — three of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors in Central Asia — but stressed the planning was still early and no decisions had been made. A second U.S. official confirmed Thursday the list also includes Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Biden hosted his Afghan counterpart, President Ashraf Ghani, and High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman Abdullah Abdullah at the White House June 25.

Sitting down with the pair of Afghan leaders, Biden shared an optimistic message.

“The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending. It’s going to be sustained. And, you know, our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending, in terms of support and maintenance of their — helping maintain their military, as well as economic and political support,” Biden said.

But Biden grew visibly agitated Friday when reporters peppered him with questions about the future of Afghanistan.

“Look, we were in that war for 20 years, 20 years. And I think — I met with the Afghan government here in the White House, in the Oval. I think they have the capacity to be able to sustain the government. There are going to have to be, down the road, more negotiations, I suspect,” Biden said. “But I am — I am concerned that they deal with the internal issues that they have to be able to generate the kind of support they need nationwide to maintain the government.”

Prior to the Fourth of July weekend, Biden groused about continued questions on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“I want to talk about happy things, man,” Biden said.

ABC News’s Luis Martinez contributed reporting.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden to discuss Afghanistan withdrawal amid increasing instability in region

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden is expected to deliver remarks on the drawdown of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan Thursday, providing an update as the withdrawal nears completion, and as instability and violence ratchet up in the region.

Prior to delivering the speech, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will receive a briefing on the drawdown from their national security team.

The White House has stood firm in defense of Biden’s decision to pull out, citing internal analysis concluding that a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is unlikely.

But the Taliban are coming closer to achieving one, with an aggressive summer offensive through northern provinces in recent weeks that has seized control of dozens of districts.

Biden administration officials have also defended the military withdrawal by saying that U.S. intelligence indicated the threat to U.S. forces from Taliban militants would have significantly increased throughout summer.

“When he announced our drawdown, he made clear that the Taliban would have been shooting at U.S. troops again after May 1. And the withdrawal deadline negotiated by the previous administration kind of set that timeline,” Psaki said July 2, adding that an administration review of options to advance U.S. interests in Afghanistan “did not sugarcoat what the likely outcomes would be” with continued engagement in the region.

The withdrawal, which Biden said would wrap up by Sept. 11, unfolded ahead of schedule. Bagram Air Base, the main hub of military operations in Afghanistan for the past two decades, was handed over to Afghan forces July 2. In a July 5 statement, U.S. Central Command indicated the withdrawal is about 90% complete. A small force of about 650 will remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal to protect the U.S. Embassy and, for now, the Kabul airport.

“Our presence is small, both materially and physically,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Tuesday.

But since U.S. troops began pulling out of Afghanistan, security has rapidly deteriorated. Taliban militants have swept through dozens of districts, seizing control and either slaughtering Afghan troops or winning their surrender. Hundreds of Afghan forces also fled across the northern Afghan border into Tajikstan when faced with the growing Taliban threat, although they are now expected to return to the country. Some have already been flown back into Afghanistan.

Amid the recent clashes, the Biden administration is still emphasizing a negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Those talks, hosted in Doha, Qatar, have been all but dead since they launched last September and reached an agenda in November.

The two sides met again Wednesday in Tehran and agreed that “war is not the solution to Afghanistan’s problems,” according to the Taliban spokesperson in Doha.

In those districts retaken by the Taliban last month, militants have evicted families and looted and torched their homes, according to Human Rights Watch, allegedly in retaliation for working with the Afghan government.

There is also concern for the safety of thousands of translators, drivers and other Afghans who assisted U.S. forces and diplomats during the war, and are now targets of Taliban militants. While the Biden administration has confirmed it is working to move some of the affected Afghans out of the country to safe locations to await special immigrant visas that would allow them to move to the U.S., the administration has not specified how many will be moved, how quickly or where.

A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News on Friday that the group may be moved to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — three of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors in Central Asia — but stressed the planning was still early and no decisions had been made. A second U.S. official confirmed Thursday the list also includes Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

President Biden hosted his Afghan counterpart, President Ashraf Ghani, and High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman Abdullah Abdullah at the White House June 25.

Sitting down with the pair of Afghan leaders, Biden shared an optimistic message.

“The partnership between Afghanistan and the United States is not ending. It’s going to be sustained. And, you know, our troops may be leaving, but support for Afghanistan is not ending, in terms of support and maintenance of their — helping maintain their military, as well as economic and political support,” Biden said.

But Biden grew visibly agitated Friday when reporters peppered him with questions about the future of Afghanistan.

“Look, we were in that war for 20 years, 20 years. And I think — I met with the Afghan government here in the White House, in the Oval. I think they have the capacity to be able to sustain the government. There are going to have to be, down the road, more negotiations, I suspect,” Biden said. “But I am — I am concerned that they deal with the internal issues that they have to be able to generate the kind of support they need nationwide to maintain the government.”

Prior to the Fourth of July weekend, Biden groused about continued questions on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“I want to talk about happy things, man,” Biden complained.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ship that blocked Suez Canal set free after settlement agreement

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(NEW YORK) — A giant container ship that blocked traffic in Suez Canal for six days earlier this year was finally set free on Wednesday after its owners and insurers reached a settlement agreement with the vital waterway’s authority.

The agreement was signed in the coastal Egyptian city of Ismailia, with Ever Given — the skyscraper-sized vessel — sailing for the first time since it was dislodged on March 29, having brought global maritime trade to a standstill after being stranded near the southern end of the canal for nearly a week.

The terms of the deal, which came after more than three months of legal wrangling, were not disclosed by either side.

Egypt had initially demanded $916 million in compensation, which was deemed excessive by the vessel’s Japanese owner. The figure was later lowered to $550 million, with an Egyptian economic court ordering the seizure of the ship until a settlement was reached.

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) estimated its losses at around $1 billion during the six days in which the waterway was blocked, pointing to lost transit fees and the costs of its salvage operation.

Local media footage showed Ever Given, which is 400 meters long and 59 meters wide (over 1,300 feet long and about 194 feet wide), transiting out of the Bitter Lake, where it has been held between two sections of the canal since it was re-floated.

The SCA and the vessel’s owners exchanged words of praise after the settlement agreement was struck.

“We are a regular and committed customer of the Suez Canal, and we would like to place on record our thanks to the Suez Canal Authority and others who worked tirelessly to release the ship as swiftly as possible when she ran aground over three months ago,” Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd, the owners of the ship, said in a statement.

The ship will first head to Port Said, Egypt, for a dive survey of the vessel, the company said, and after approval from the American Bureau of Shipping, the Ever Given “will then complete her voyage to the next port where her cargo will be discharged.”

Egypt’s massive salvage operation involved a flotilla of tugboats and dredgers that eventually managed to free the Panama-flagged ship, with stories of rescue crews working day and night to re-float it making local headlines and becoming a source of national pride.

“Today, I stand tall among the heroes of the Suez Canal … to announce to the world that an agreement has been reached regarding the ship crisis,” SCA head Osama Rabie said at a news conference.

Egypt announced in May plans to expand the southern part of the Suez Canal to include a parallel waterway so that ships can move in both directions at the same time.

In 2015, Egypt inaugurated a 35-km (nearly 22 miles) parallel waterway in the canal’s northern section in a project that cost the country $8 billion.

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Haiti’s interim prime minister declares he’s in charge after assassination

Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

(LONDON) — Haitian President Jovenel Moise was killed in an attack at his home before dawn on Wednesday, the country’s interim premier said.

A group of unidentified individuals raided Moise’s private residence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, at around 1 a.m. local time. They gunned down the 53-year-old head of state and wounded his wife, Martine Moise, who remains hospitalized, according to a statement from Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

Joseph, who condemned what he called a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act,” said that the Caribbean country’s national police force and military had the situation under control and declared a state of emergency.

Late Wednesday, Haiti’s communications secretary said in a tweet that police have arrested the “presumed assassins,” but Frantz Exantus did not provide further details about Wednesday’s slaying or say how many suspects had been arrested. He said more information was forthcoming.

Reaction has been pouring in from around the world condemning the assassination, including from U.S. President Joe Biden, who called the situation “very worrisome.”

Reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, Haiti has also been in the midst of a constitutional crisis as Moise and opposition leaders disputed the end of his five-year presidential term and legislative elections remained interminably delayed.

Addressing the nation in a televised speech, Joseph called on the people of Haiti to “stay calm.” He chaired a meeting of the government’s ministers Wednesday morning, although the country’s line of succession is unclear, especially given its recent political turmoil.

“All the ministers and I have been working since the news broke and we want to assure you we will bring the killers of the president to justice,” he said. “Please stay calm and let the authorities do their work. We don’t want the country to plunge into chaos. This is a very sad day for our nation and for our people.”

The assailants, who remain at large, were “well-trained commandos” who were speaking Spanish and most likely came from outside Haiti, according to Bocchit Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S. The group was “highly trained and heavily armed,” according to Joseph, who called for an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting and an international investigation into the attack.

Edmond said the Haitian government had video evidence of the group speaking Spanish. He also said they claimed to be agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which Edmond rejected. He urged the U.S. to provide security assistance not just for the immediate investigation, but also to boost Haitian security forces against armed gangs and a porous border.

First lady Martine Moise is in stable but critical condition, according to Edmond, and she was to be moved to a Miami hospital for treatment at some point Wednesday.

The streets of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince were largely deserted Wednesday and Toussaint Louverture International Airport has been closed in the wake of the assassination.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince was also closed Wednesday, including for consular services, “due to an ongoing security situation,” it said in a security alert. The embassy also said it is restricting its American staff to its compounds “until further notice” and urged members of the public to avoid unnecessary travel to the area.

U.S. officials are “still gathering information” on the deadly attack, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, offering U.S. assistance “if there’s an investigation.”

“We’re still assessing, still gathering information, and the president of course will be briefed by his national security team this morning,” she said.

Hours later, the White House issued a statement from Biden condemning “this heinous act.”

“I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” the statement said.

Haiti has been in a state of chaos for months now, with frequent gunfire and street skirmishes between armed groups, political demonstrations and strikes, and a coronavirus wave never brought under control. Cases of the virus were as high last month as they were one year ago, and the country has yet to distribute a single vaccine dose or receive any shipments from COVAX, the international program to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

That’s in part because of the governing crisis roiling Haiti. The country’s political opposition had argued that Moise’s five-year presidential term ended this February — five years after his election victory, but four years after he took office — while he said he had one more year left because the disputed 2016 election delayed his inauguration until 2017.

Moise had been governing by decree since January 2020, after the country failed to hold legislative elections and the legislature’s mandate expired. Opposition leaders accused him of wanting to return Haiti to a dictatorship.

Earlier this year, Moise ordered the retirement of three Supreme Court judges and the arrest of nearly two dozen people, including prominent officials, who he alleged were plotting a coup. Violent protests against Moise erupted, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country in March.

The political instability in addition to economic woes and escalating gang violence have undermined efforts to rebuild Haiti from a devastating earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

While the Biden administration backed Moise’s claim to have one more year in office, it had grown increasingly vocal in its opposition to his “one-man rule,” in the words of the top U.S. diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, including governing by decrees and refusing to hold those legislative elections.

While the White House has said it will provide Haiti some of the initial 80 million COVID-19 vaccines it has promised to share overseas, it has yet to announce when it will do so — with the worsening security situation now making it that much harder.

ABC News’s Christine Theodorou, Molly Nagle, and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

2 US military service members hurt in rocket attack on al-Asad air base

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(WASHINGTON) — A Pentagon spokesperson has confirmed that two U.S. military service members were injured in a rocket attack on al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq earlier Wednesday.

The U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad had confirmed earlier that 14 rockets had been fired towards the base with some landing inside the perimeter.

Separately, a defense official said that the injuries consist of a concussion for one of the service members and an abrasion for the other.

This comes more than a week after White House officials said the U.S. carried out an airstrike near the Iraq-Syria border to target Iran-backed militias and two facilities behind drone attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise killed in attack at his home, country now in state of emergency

Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

(LONDON) — Haitian President Jovenel Moise was killed in an attack at his home before dawn on Wednesday, the country’s interim premier said.

A group of unidentified individuals raided Moise’s private residence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, at around 1 a.m. local time. They gunned down the 53-year-old head of state and wounded his wife, Martine Moise, who remains hospitalized, according to a statement from Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

Joseph, who condemned what he called a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act,” said that the Caribbean country’s national police force and military had the situation under control and declared a state of emergency.

Reaction has been pouring in from around the world condemning the assassination, including from U.S. President Joe Biden, who called the situation “very worrisome.”

Reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, Haiti has also been in the midst of a constitutional crisis as Moise and opposition leaders disputed the end of his five-year presidential term and legislative elections remained interminably delayed.

Addressing the nation in a televised speech, Joseph called on the people of Haiti to “stay calm.” He chaired a meeting of the government’s ministers Wednesday morning, although the country’s line of succession is unclear, especially given its recent political turmoil.

“All the ministers and I have been working since the news broke and we want to assure you we will bring the killers of the president to justice,” he said. “Please stay calm and let the authorities do their work. We don’t want the country to plunge into chaos. This is a very sad day for our nation and for our people.”

Joseph’s initial paper statement said some attackers were speaking Spanish, but a second statement issued in English by the Haitian embassy in Washington made no mention of that. Instead, it said that the group was “highly trained and heavily armed” and called for an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting and an international investigation into the attack.

The streets of Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince were largely deserted Wednesday, and Toussaint Louverture International Airport has been closed in the wake of the assassination.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince was also closed Wednesday, including for consular services, “due to an ongoing security situation,” it said in a security alert. The embassy also said it is restricting its American staff to its compounds “until further notice” and urged members of the public to avoid unnecessary travel to the area.

U.S. officials are “still gathering information” on the deadly attack, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, offering U.S. assistance “if there’s an investigation. We’re still assessing, still gathering information, and the president of course will be briefed by his national security team this morning.”

Hours later, the White House issued a statement from Biden condemning “this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse’s recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”

Haiti has been in a state of chaos for months now, with frequent gunfire and street skirmishes between armed groups, political demonstrations and strikes, and a coronavirus wave never brought under control. Cases of the virus were as high last month as they were one year ago, and the country has yet to distribute a single vaccine dose or receive any shipments from COVAX, the international program to provide vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

That’s in part because of the governing crisis roiling Haiti. The country’s political opposition had argued that Moise’s five-year presidential term ended this February — five years after his election victory, but four years after he took office — while he said he had one more year left because the disputed 2016 election delayed his inauguration until 2017.

Moise had been governing by decree since January 2020, after the country failed to hold legislative elections and the legislature’s mandate expired. Opposition leaders accused him of wanting to return Haiti to a dictatorship.

Earlier this year, Moise ordered the retirement of three Supreme Court judges and the arrest of nearly two dozen people, including prominent officials, who he alleged were plotting a coup. Violent protests against Moise erupted, prompting the president to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country in March.

The political instability in addition to economic woes and escalating gang violence have undermined efforts to rebuild Haiti from a devastating earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

While the Biden administration backed Moise’s claim to have one more year in office, it had grown increasingly vocal in its opposition to his “one-man rule,” in the words of the top U.S. diplomat for the Western Hemisphere, including governing by decrees and refusing to hold those legislative elections.

While the White House has said it will provide Haiti some of the initial 80 million COVID-19 vaccines it has promised to share overseas, it has yet to announce when it will do so — with the worsening security situation now making it that much harder.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Haitian President Jovenel Moise killed in attack at his home, official says

Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

(LONDON) — Haitian President Jovenel Moise was killed in an attack at his home before dawn on Wednesday, the country’s interim premier said.

A group of unidentified individuals, some of whom spoke Spanish, raided Moise’s private residence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, at around 1 a.m. local time. They gunned down the head of state and wounded his wife, Martine Moise, who remains hospitalized, according to a statement from Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

Joseph, who condemned what he described as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act,” said the Caribbean country’s national police force and military had the situation under control.

The Toussaint Louverture International Airport near Port-au-Prince has been closed in the wake of the deadly attack.

Story developing…

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Afghan troops flee across border as Taliban make swift gains in alarming offensive

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(WASHINGTON) — Hundreds of Afghan troops fled across the country’s northern border to safety, as the Taliban continue a swift offensive to seize districts amid the U.S. military withdrawal.

The rapidly deteriorating security situation has alarmed U.S. officials in Washington, D.C. and Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where the government of President Ashraf Ghani is trying to project calm and regroup its forces.

But the Taliban, the militant group that has been at war with the U.S. and Afghan government since the 2001 American invasion, is gaining more territory by the day, ignoring calls for a ceasefire or resumed negotiations.

President Joe Biden has also shown no second thoughts about his decision to withdraw all 2,500 remaining U.S. forces, except for 650 troops that will stay to protect the U.S. embassy and, at least initially, Kabul’s international airport.

That withdrawal is now 90% complete, according to the Pentagon. But although most troops have left, the Department of Defense said the withdrawal won’t be finished until late August.

Amid the Taliban offensive, there’s growing concern about the safety of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, which said it has “well-developed security plans to safely protect our personnel and facilities,” but has “no plans to close.”

There’s also deep concern for the Afghan interpreters, guides and other contractors who worked for the U.S. and now say their lives are at risk from the Taliban. The Biden administration has said it will relocate a group of them out of Afghanistan, but it’s unclear how many, when and to where.

A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News on Friday that the group may be moved to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — three of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors in Central Asia — but stressed that the planning was still early and no decisions had been made yet.

There are approximately 18,000 Afghans seeking a Special Immigrant Visa, which gives those who worked for the U.S. military or diplomatic mission in Afghanistan and Iraq the chance to move themselves and their families to the U.S. In recent years, the surge in interest and a years-long backlog has put these Afghans’ lives at risk, according to U.S. lawmakers and advocates, who have urged an evacuation to a safe location while their applications are processed.

A senior U.S. administration official declined to provide details on numbers or timing, but told ABC News on Thursday that they had “identified a group of SIV applicants … to be relocated to another location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September.”

Before those plans get moving, however, more than 1,300 Afghan border police and soldiers crossed the border to Tajikistan to escape the Taliban in recent days, according to local Afghan security sources. The Taliban have seized dozens of districts since Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April and their offensive among northern provinces has resulted in hundreds of Afghan forces surrendering or being killed.

In the last six days, the Taliban have taken control of nearly 10% of Afghanistan’s districts, with nearly half of them now in Taliban control and another third contested between the militants and the government, according to the war monitor the Long War Journal.

Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib said Tuesday during a press conference that those Afghan forces that fled “are coming back and are once again going to be in the service of the people and in the defense of Faizabad,” the capital of Badakhshan province.

While some of those returns may begin, the rush of refugees across the border alarmed several governments in the region, who have feared a refugee crisis and regional upheaval as the U.S. exits and the Taliban seizes territory and possibly targets Kabul.

Tajikistan mobilized 20,000 military reservists to strengthen security on its southern border with Afghanistan, according to state media, while its president Emomali Rakhmon called both Ghani and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the “alarming” situation. Russia pledged assistance, according to the Kremlin, including from its enormous and well-armed military base in Tajikistan.

Much of the Afghan-Tajik border is now controlled by the Taliban, which has been collecting revenue from cross-border commerce at their own mobile customs checkpoints on major highways, according to local Afghan security sources.

But despite the Taliban’s major gains on the battlefield, the Biden administration is still refusing to address the declining security situation.

Asked about a Taliban takeover, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday, “That’s a big ‘if,’ that’s a hypothetical and I don’t think it’s helpful for anybody right now to engage in hypothesizing about what might happen months and years from now.”

Over at the State Department, spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, “I am not going to offer an assessment or any sort of feedback of our reaction from here.”

Price also declined to speak to what contingency plans are in place at the U.S. embassy, including shutting down the massive compound and evacuating its 1,400 U.S. staffers. Two former U.S. officials told ABC News that the embassy would be reviewing its emergency evacuation plans with a daily review based on ever-evolving intelligence assessments, especially as more U.S. forces leave Afghanistan and the embassy with a smaller reactionary force to come assist.

“The State Department, the Department of Defense — these are planning organizations. We’re always planning for any contingency,” Price said, declining to offer more details.

Despite growing Taliban control, Price added that it seemed the militant group “understands that only through diplomacy can they garner any sort of legitimacy, can they expect to be accepted by the international community.”

But talks between the Taliban and Afghan government delegations, which met for the first time last September, have yet to yield anything but an agenda. And while some meetings in Doha, Qatar, continue, the peace process is all but dead despite committed paper statements from both sides.

Pressed on that, Price said Tuesday, “Believe me, I’m not out here to offer false hope when it comes to what the Taliban may seek or what they’re up to now.”

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American lawyer jailed in Hong Kong for assaulting police officer

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(HONG KONG) — American corporate lawyer Samuel Phillip Bickett was given a term of four months and two weeks for assaulting a police officer in Hong Kong during a period of citywide unrest about 18 months ago.

The 37-year-old has been in custody since July 22, when a Hong Kong magistrate found him guilty of assaulting Senior Constable Yu Shu-sang in December 2019. Bickett was denied bail.

Hong Kong magistrate Arthur Lam pointed out that the police officer had sustained multiple injuries and called Bickett’s crime a “serious threat to public order.”

In a statement seen by ABC News, Bickett said he would appeal the “outrageous” verdict and “will not rest until justice is done.” The trial’s outcome, he added, is “entirely unsupportable by both the law and the evidence in this case.”

A State Department spokesperson said the United States was aware of Bickett’s case and that it was working to provide consular assistance: “We take seriously our responsibility to assist U.S. citizens abroad, and are monitoring the situation.”

Bickett, a former compliance director at Bank of America, reportedly was on his way to dinner when he tried to stop a man from attacking a commuter at an underground train station.

That man, it turned out, was an off-duty police officer who said he was using a baton to try to stop a turnstile jumper. At the time, Hong Kong officers were allowed to carry retractable batons during off-the-clock hours because of the ongoing protests.

Bickett claims the officer was threatening commuters and that he intervened in an attempt to prevent someone from getting hurt.

In his statement, Bickett said that in Hong Kong’s judicial system “rulings suggest a willful abandonment of fundamental legal principles by this magistrate, and make me sad for the state of rule of law in this city.”

Bickett’s case takes place amid a tense political backdrop. There have been a slew of arrests and prosecutions since last summer when Beijing imposed a national security law in the city, where crackdowns have affected a number of key sectors.

Last month, the city’s only remaining opposition newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to close after the government froze its assets and arrested a handful of executives.

On Wednesday, Amnesty International said that Hong Kong is “on a rapid path to becoming a police state.”

The remarks came after the city’s former security secretary, John Lee, was promoted to Hong Kong’s second-highest job, while Lee’s post was handed over to police head Chris Tang.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam repeatedly has denied that the former colony’s freedoms and autonomy — meant to be guaranteed when the U.K. handed it back to China in 1997 — are being diminished.

But whether that assurance is enough for the American and international businesses, families and individuals who remain in Hong Kong remains to be seen.

American Chamber of Commerce President Tara Joseph said, “These are sensitive times for American business in Hong Kong, wrestling not just with the National Security Law but also heightened U.S.-China tensions and strict COVID travel restrictions.”

A survey of members conducted by the chamber in May indicated that some 42% are considering leaving, but, as Joseph noted, Hong Kong remains a vital economic center: “For many sectors, Hong Kong remains an important business hub. Many companies will try to adjust to a new normal.”

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